In­no­va­tion and start­ing fresh are em­bed­ded in Cal­i­for­nia’s cul­tural DNA

2017 Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY DAVID ARM­STRONG

A Home for Im­mi­grants and En­trepreneurs


The Cal­i­for­nia Gold Rush (1848-1855) brought a tide of peo­ple to the state and turned the sleepy ham­let of San Fran­cisco into an “in­stant city.” Later, in 1859, min­ers dis­cov­ered gold in Mono County east of the Sierra Ne­vada, where the town of Bodie swelled to 10,000 peo­ple in 1880. The mill and houses in Bodie State His­toric Park, above, date to 1861. To­day, Bodie is a well-pre­served ghost town. The Span­ish Fran­cis­can friar bless­ing an adobe church at Mis­sion Basil­ica San Diego de Al­calá in 1769; the Chilean miner try­ing his luck pan­ning for gold in a cold Sierra cataract in 1849; the Chi­nese la­borer cross­ing the heav­ing Pa­cific to work on the transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road in 1869; the African Amer­i­can leav­ing the South to build war­ships on the Oak­land wa­ter­front in 1942; the Haight-ash­bury hip­pie with her wake­ful dream­ing in San Fran­cisco’s Sum­mer of Love in 1967; the In­dian en­gi­neer launch­ing a high-tech startup in Palo Alto in 2017, all have some­thing in com­mon: start­ing over.

The United States is said to be a place where the world comes to be­gin again—to rein­vent it­self, in the cur­rent coinage. If so, Cal­i­for­nia is the “Amer­ica” of Amer­ica. This was so even in pre-his­tory, when the first mi­grants from Asia crossed the land bridge be­tween Siberia and Alaska, hung a right, walked south­ward, found pas­tures of plenty, rich marine life and heart-stop­pingly beau­ti­ful moun­tains and ei­ther de­cided to keep walk­ing or stop right where they were.

The place wasn’t called Cal­i­for­nia then, of course. That came later, the name taken from a 16th-cen­tury Span­ish novel and used by ex­plor­ers, sol­diers and mis­sion­ar­ies, who were them­selves start­ing over in the New World. The Span­ish built 21 Ro­man Catholic mis­sions, from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north, from 1769 to 1823. In con­vert­ing na­tive com­mu­ni­ties to

Chris­tian­ity, the new­com­ers over­whelmed na­tive cul­tures. Of ne­ces­sity, the Na­tive Amer­i­cans started over in a be­wil­der­ing new world.

In 1821, Mex­ico, with its re­mote north­ern­most prov­ince, Alta Cal­i­for­nia, wrenched it­self free of the Span­ish Em­pire. In 1833, the mis­sions were sec­u­lar­ized by the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment and aban­doned. Their build­ings moldered, their pi­o­neer­ing vine­yards and olive groves were even­tu­ally over­grown and for­got­ten. Not un­til the 20th cen­tury were the mis­sions re­stored and re­vived. Many flour­ish to­day as re­doubts of his­tory and contemporary wor­ship, hand­some, evoca­tive re­minders of the first ma­jor Euro­pean pres­ence.

The Gold Rush

Alta Cal­i­for­nia grew slowly in its iso­la­tion. That changed on Jan­uary 24, 1848, with the discovery of gold on the Amer­i­can River. The Cal­i­for­nia Gold Rush, be­gin­ning in earnest in 1849, gave for­tune-seek­ers a sec­ond—some said a last—chance to make good. Half-a-mil­lion new­com­ers—many from Europe, Asia, Latin Amer­ica and Africa— glob­al­ized Cal­i­for­nia in a hurry. The Mex­i­can descen­dants of Span­ish set­tlers—the Cal­i­fornios, with their sprawl­ing ran­chos and lives at­tuned to the slow turn­ing of the sea­sons—were swept aside, left to start over.

Many 49ers stayed on and found an­other kind of gold: richly pro­duc­tive new lives in a place where be­gin­ning afresh—per­son­ally, fi­nan­cially, even spir­i­tu­ally—was al­ready a com­mon rite of pas­sage. In 1850, pried loose by the U.S. vic­tory in the Mex­i­can War and ac­cel­er­ated by the Gold Rush, Cal­i­for­nia be­came the 31st state of the United States. New Cal­i­for­ni­ans brought the new Golden State into be­ing, plow­ing its fields, found­ing its great uni­ver­si­ties, build­ing its cities.

Cal­i­for­nia’s lus­trous rep­u­ta­tion was tar­nished on the morn­ing of April 18, 1906, when a mas­sive earth­quake rocked North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and lev­eled much of San Fran­cisco; what the rolling, rum­bling ground didn’t knock down, the en­su­ing firestorm burned down. Some 3,000 peo­ple died. Now, it was San Fran­cisco’s turn to start over. San Fran­cisco dra­ma­tized its re­cov­ery, and cel­e­brated the new Panama Canal link­ing the At­lantic and the Pa­cific, with the splen­didly showy Panama-pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion of 1915.

The Rise of Hol­ly­wood

Just two years after that op­ti­mistic dis­play, the na­tion plunged into World War I. After the war ended in 1918, still more mi­grants rushed to Cal­i­for­nia. In 1920, Los An­ge­les (and much later San Diego and San Jose) surged past San Fran­cisco in pop­u­la­tion. The or­ange groves and dusty by­ways of old Los An­ge­les be­gan mor­ph­ing into “La”—more specif­i­cally, and more myth­i­cally, “Hol­ly­wood.”

Ac­tors, writ­ers, di­rec­tors and pro­duc­ers streamed to Los An­ge­les, grow­ing a quiet cot­tage in­dus­try of silent mo­tion pic­tures into a tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced busi­ness. Stars were born in a place that came to be called “the dream fac­tory.” Not a few of the Dust Bowl mi­grants who left the drought­stricken Mid­west for Cal­i­for­nia in the 1930s got their first im­pres­sions of their new home from the dream-weavers of Hol­ly­wood. In the 1940s, cre­ative peo­ple from Europe such as Billy Wilder and Thomas Mann, flee­ing fas­cism and war to be­gin anew, lent the movies an Old World artis­tic sen­si­bil­ity.

Cal­i­for­nia’s story since World War II has fea­tured growth and more growth. Com­bined with in-coun­try mi­gra­tion, global im­mi­gra­tion made Cal­i­for­nia the most pop­u­lous state in the Union in 1962.

A Cen­ter for Change

From the 1960s on, Cal­i­for­nia has been, in a pos­i­tive sense, the most dis­rup­tive state in the na­tion. Stu­dent po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism, the hip counter-cul­ture and early awak­en­ings of the New Age move­ment found fer­tile ground in Cal­i­for­nia. The in-sea­son, sus­tain­able, slow­food move­ment ar­guably took root fastest in Cal­i­for­nia. Amer­i­can en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism in large part be­gan in Cal­i­for­nia, when Scot­tish im­mi­grant John Muir founded the Sierra Club in San Fran­cisco back in 1892 and took Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt camp­ing amid the nat­u­ral won­ders of Yosemite Val­ley in 1903.

From the 1980s on, Sil­i­con Val­ley has joined Hol­ly­wood as a cre­ative lodestar for the whole planet. In the present decade, Sil­i­con Val­ley reached north­ward, dra­mat­i­cally trans­form­ing the econ­omy and even the cul­ture of San Fran­cisco. The high-tech­nol­ogy world has en­shrined risk-tak­ing, in­no­va­tion, learn­ing from fail­ure and—you guessed it— start­ing over. Quot­ing an­other Cal­i­for­nia in­no­va­tion, the 1960s Whole Earth Cat­a­log, Ap­ple’s Steve Jobs urged Stan­ford Univer­sity grad­u­ates in a com­mence­ment speech in 2005 to “stay hun­gry, stay fool­ish.”

Cal­i­for­ni­ans, across cen­turies and cul­tures, al­ways have.

THE STARK BUT BEAU­TI­FUL land­scape of Death Val­ley, top; a sou­venir from the Panama Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion of 1915, above; Mis­sion San Car­los Bor­romeo de Carmelo, also known as the Carmel Mis­sion, right; the Gaslamp Quar­ter in San Diego, be­low.

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